We the Music: Samantha Crain

My last post was about indie/folk music being so white so this installment of We the Music highlights the brilliant singer-songwriter Samantha Crain who is a member of the Choctaw nation. Her latest album You Had Me At Goodbye came out at the end of March and if you haven’t listened to it you’re going to want to stop what you’re doing and play the whole thing.

Compared to her previous albums Crain’s latest work strays away from the folksy sound she’s been most known for and embraces a more pop sound. The first track “Antiseptic Greeting” makes that clear from the beginning. Crain commented in interviews how she feels more comfortable.

However, songs like “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” and “When the Roses Bloom Again” stand out as call backs to her folk origins. On “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” Crain sings in her native Choctaw language with a simple guitar being the prominent instrument on the track. The song “When the Roses Bloom Again” is the first cover Crain has done for an album and was actually written by Woodie Guthrie.

It’s important not to put a box around artists from minority communities and let where they come from define their work. However, it is important to support these artists in their endeavors so that they may serve as inspiration for others and further diversify whatever field they are in. Recognizing and embracing them as artists or in their work in general is necessary.

Crain singing in her native Choctaw language is significant – even if it wasn’t meant to be a political statement it is almost impossible for it not to be with our history of colonization and oppressing the Indigenous people of North America. The saying of “kill the Indian, save the man” represented the philosophy of the American government towards Indigenous people. It was racist and the policies that resulted created an oppressive system that’s remnants remain today.

By embracing and singing in the Choctaw language, Crain demonstrates to the world that Indigenous voices and culture are still around to be heard. That’s really powerful, especially being a musician whose genre is so white.

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American folk music is interesting in that even though today it’s very white it wasn’t always that way. Its roots stem from variety of influences from Cajun to blues to gospel and music from the various Native American nations. Folk music eventually meshed into protest music during the civil rights movement and eventually Vietnam. But folk music is much more expansive than what we remember it to be and what we think of it as now.

Folk music in general is music that is traditional – passed down from generation to generation within communities. Folk music in America became a genre that got popularized by white males and continues to be dominated by them too. It’s important to remember that American folk music has roots in a multitude of music from different culture which isn’t represented as “folk music” today.

Crain’s music is important in keeping the tradition of folk music alive and acknowledging the roots of the genre. Not everything has to be political but it is important to consider the diversity of artists you listen to. Check out Vagabon, Benjamin Booker, and Hanni El Khatib; all three are artists who are representing different voices in white dominated genres.

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Grace Madigan

Album Review: This Old Dog from Mac Demarco

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Easy going Mac Demarco has dropped his fourth album, This Old Dog. This follows his 2015 album Another One and shows his continued growth as an artist. Demarco is known for his laid-back demeanor, wanting to interact with fans directly, whether through his Official Fan Club or at shows. He’s given out his New York home address on the final track of Another One offering his fans a cup of coffee if they stop by. Since this, he moved to California at an undisclosed address and started working on his newest release. If you’re unfamiliar, you can get a better sense of his attitude through his music videos or social media posts.

This Old Dog doesn’t deviate much from Demarco’s easy, breezy sound found in his previous two albums, but displays a level of growth in songwriting and production. His lyrics are less cluttered than before and grapple with much more complex and adult themes, the largest being Demarco’s relationship with a largely absent father. He laments that he’s turning into his father on the first track “My Old Man”, closing the album with “Watching Him Fade Away” where Demarco says of his father’s illness: “the thought of him no longer being around/ well sure it would be sad but not really different”. It’s heart wrenching to hear about losing something that was never quite there and a stark contrast to previous songs such as “Ode to Viceroy”, an ode to Demarco’s favorite cigarettes.

Maybe it’s his shift towards these more adult themes that makes this album feel different from the previous ones. The sound hasn’t changed that much, although Demarco’s favored an acoustic guitar heavily this time around. This album also sounds more polished, more studio produced than previous demo-like moments from Salad Days or 2.  He’s still the laid-back singer-songwriter but his sound is starting to explore a selection of other genres and influences. “A Wolf Who Wears Sheeps Clothes” feels folky with a harmonica and acoustic guitar while “One More Love Song” immediately after is funkier with heavier bass. However, he manages to do all of this and still sound like Mac Demarco.

This album makes for easy listening in true Demarco fashion. While it personally isn’t my favorite work from him, it still has great moments and is still a strong album.

Stream This Old Dog here and catch Demarco at The Moore Theatre September 10th or 11th.

Best Tracks: “My Old Man”, “Still Beating”, “One More Love Song”

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Jessica Gloe

I Swear I’m Good at This: the Debut Album from Diet Cig

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My fascination with Diet Cig started when I saw them open for The Front Bottoms and Brick + Mortar last year. At that time, they had one 5-song EP and two singles. Almost exactly one year later, they dropped their first full length album, I Swear I’m Good at This. Frontwoman Alex Luciano keeps it real with her audience and her unbridled honesty makes her lyrics so much more relatable. The opener of the album, “Sixteen”, details cringey moments of dating someone with the same name. Luciano addresses many relationship struggles and problems commonly encountered as one enters adulthood, or at least tries to. 

Among the sweet melodies and talk of relationships are discussions of heavier topics such as gender roles and consent. On “Maid Of The Mist”, Luciano spits out “I am bigger than the outside shell of my body and if you touch it without asking then you’ll be sorry”. Luciano may refer to relationships and seemingly mundane topics, but she remains feminist pop-punk and empowered. “Tummy Ache” and “Link in Bio” is where some of this feminist frustration boils over. 

Overall, Diet Cig nails combining a young innocence with ferocity and empowerment. They blend elements and themes together in a bubbly, dancy pop. I Swear I’m Good at This is an amazing debut album and I’m excited to see where they go from here.

You can listen to I Swear I’m Good at This here.

Diet Cig will be stopping by Seattle on April 28th at Barboza. If you’re able to attend, I highly recommend. The energy present in their music is multiplied by 10 at their live shows. Luciano jumps, kicks, and is an amazing ball of energy. She’ll make you dance even if you’re unfamiliar with their music. You can grab tickets for that show here. 

~Jessica Gloe

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We the Music: First Aid Kit

The hip-hop community seems to be releasing an endless array of songs commenting on today’s social and political issues. It has struck me that I have not seen as much politically charged music in the indie/folk scene. What has happened to this genre that used to be at the forefront of hippie culture or maybe a better question is who is making the music?

A New Yorker article describes the history and transition of the indie community becoming so white. Look back to the early days of folk and you’ll see how they took the call and response element straight from songs sung on the plantations by slaves. Then listen to the music of the 60’s and 70’s and you’ll hear the blues influence. There was a lot of borrowing between black and white musicians but it stopped according to the article sometime when hip-hop began to take over the charts. Indie rock became white and hip-hop black.

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The reason for bringing this up is that indie/folk is my favorite genre but if you told me list to my top 10 even 20 artists from that genre they would all be white. It’s an important aspect of music to acknowledge even if you don’t want to.

First Aid Kit is comprised of two sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg who hail from Sweden. Why I picked to highlight them was because even though they fall in line with the majority of white artists in the indie/folk scene their latest song has a powerful political and social message. The duo’s song is focused on an issue that affects them and half the world’s population, women. 

It’s very easy for anyone to take the safe route and say nothing when an issue arises especially if it’s political. But it is important that those with a voice especially musicians speak out and I think First Aid Kit provides a perfect example of how to do that. 

“You Are the Problem Here” by First Aid Kit is a rock song done by folk group that is striking. If you’ve heard the Swedish duo before and listen to this new song, you’ll notice it is quite different. Departing from their normal harmonies that are delicate and beautiful, there is a raw anger that comes through the song. From the very beginning you know that you’re getting something different. Instead of the normal acoustic an electric guitar gives energy to the song.

The lyrics are simple, even repetitive but that’s the point. Sexual harassment and rape shouldn’t be so complicated. Consent is an easy concept, that’s why there is so much anger. The last line of the song captures the intense rage the sisters have for those who sexually harass women; “And I hope you fucking suffer”. There is no hidden message, no metaphor it’s raw which is what makes this song powerful.

While it is not my favorite track from the talented Swedes it’s one that is important. It’s a track from the indie community that says something. There are many more out there and hopefully many more to come.

Grace Madigan

Album Review: Dirty Projectors

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Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth. 

Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking. 

“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”

“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws. 

The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.

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-Noah Prince

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